When Mitchell Paige was a young boy, he watched Marines proudly march in a parade. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to join the Corps. On his 18th birthday, the motivated young man walked 200 miles from his home in Pennsylvania to Baltimore and enlisted.
After completing his training, Paige quickly rose up in the ranks, eventually earning command over his own platoon. Soon after, he was sent to join other troops in the ground invasion of the Island of Guadalcanal. The island housed a critical airfield — one within striking distance of Australia and New Zealand, making it extremely dangerous in enemy hands.
Paige was sent in to protect another infantry company with his deadly squad of machine-gunners, but the fight would soon take an unexpected turn.
As Paige’s Marines settled into position, rain poured down. He ordered his men to remain as silent as possible. The mission was to hold the line at all costs — or risk losing control of the crucial airfield.
Then, the enemy swarmed in, engaging the Marines with everything they had. As his men fell injured, Paige ran back and forth firing his men’s weapons, making the Japanese think there were still plenty of American troops left in the fight.
As Paige continued to fire the machine guns, he was discovered by an enemy troop. That troop aimed directly at Paige and fired. The platoon sergeant leaned back and somehow dodged the incoming rounds. The hot bullets whizzed through the tiny, open space between Paige’s neck and chin, miraculously causing zero damage.
Paige returned fire, taking the enemy soldier out just as quickly as he had appeared.
Still, the Japanese troops severely outnumbered the American Marines. Paige loaded himself up with ammo and charged the enemy while holding his .30 caliber machine gun at his hip. He shot at every Japanese troop that entered his field of vision.
They dropped like flies.
Suddenly, his surroundings fell still — completely silent. Paige turned his head and saw two Marine riflemen headed his way, celebrating. Reportedly, 33 Marines fought off more than 2,000 Japanese troops during the intense skirmish.
On May 21, 1943, Mitchell Paige was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds.
Roman gladiators were some of the most vicious and popular athletes of all time. The extremely violent sport of gladiatorial fighting was as popular back then as MMA is today. In ancient Rome, crowds would swarm to see their favorite warriors beat the sh*t out of each other until only one man was left standing in the center of the arena — or until the match ended in a draw.
Although multiple films and TV shows have covered the lives of these warriors, many details remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about these brave, sword-wielding warriors.
What their dental impressions revealed
Scientists who study the gladiator’s role in the Roman Empire have discovered that many fighters once suffered from infant malnutrition. Upon examining preserved dental impressions, specialists recognized defects in the form of horizontal lines that ran across the tooth enamel. This supports theories that state many gladiators grew up very poor and may have been sold off as slaves at a young age.
After becoming property, those trained in combat were then fed well by their owners and encouraged to gain the much-needed muscle to fight in the arenas.
They formed their own trade unions
Although gladiators battled and killed one another, they commonly viewed each other as brothers. Many developed and organized themselves into unions, called “collegia.” They had their own leaders and would pay respects to warriors who fell in battle.
Commonly, a fund was collected from gladiators that would then go to a fallen’s family as compensation.
Fighting to the death
Contrary to popular belief, gladiators didn’t typically fight to the death while in the arenas. A warrior’s death was a tremendous financial burden on their owner. However, historians believe that nearly 700,000 gladiators lost their lives in the Colosseum.
That’s a lot of debt.
They were split up into different sections and types
Gladiators were broken up into various classes based on their records, experience, and skill level. The thraeces and murmillones gladiators battled it out using swords and shields while the essedariis rode in combat on chariots.
Before their battles, they lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as both training and prison grounds.
The story of Dunkirk is often relayed as an evacuation that saved the British army from complete disaster. Christopher Nolan’s new movie portrays just that — the herculean effort and incredible fear of those on the beach, at sea, and in the air.
The original hope for the evacuation at Dunkirk was to get some 40,000 men off the beach and back to England to regroup for a possible German invasion. In the end, the British were able to evacuate over 300,000 soldiers from multiple countries.
That would not have been possible if brave men hadn’t held their positions to defend the perimeter, holding off the German onslaught to allow their brothers to escape.
These are the men that stayed behind and made the evacuation possible:
1. Capt. Marcus Ervine-Andrews
Ervine-Andrews was leading a company of the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, defending 1,000 yards of line along the Canal de Bergues in front of Dunkirk. Positioned directly in front of the German onslaught of his comrades on the beaches, Ervine-Andrews endeavored to hold them off.
As the Germans crossed the canal, the defenses began to break so he moved to the front line and ordered troops into the gaps. He then climbed atop a straw-roofed barn and, under withering fire, began engaging the enemy. Ervine-Andrews “personally accounted for seventeen of the enemy with his rifle, and for many more with a Bren gun.”
Unfortunately, even Ervine-Andrews’ daring was not enough to hold back the Germans. With his company decimated, he ordered the wounded to the rear in the last available vehicle while he and his remaining eight men covered the retreat.
He then led his men safely back to friendly lines, often times swimming or wading through neck-deep water to get there, before once again taking up position on the lines with the rearguard.
Ervine-Andrews and the rest of the rearguard were evacuated the night of June 2, the last British troops to leave. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.
2. 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment
As the evacuations began, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, along with the rest of the British 2nd Infantry Division, were ordered to hold the line along the La Bassée Canal. Their prospects for retreat, rescue, or evacuation were grim.
On May 27, the Royal Norfolks holding the line at the village of Le Paradis were attacked by the German 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf (Death’s head). As the Germans closed in, the Brits gave them hell, even killing the commanding officer of the attacking regiment. However, at 1130 that morning, the Royal Norfolks received their last orders: “Do the best you can.”
Gallantly they fought on. After the farmhouse they were using as a headquarters and shelter was destroyed, they took up positions in a cowshed. At 1715 that evening, the remaining 99 men had run out of ammunition. They had no choice but to surrender.
Unfortunately, the British surrendered to the sadistic SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Fritz Knöchlein and his company. The British were stripped of their weapons and marched to another barn where they were machine-gunned to death.
Two men managed to survive by playing dead and later testified against Knöchlein, who was hanged for his crimes.
The sacrifice of the Royal Norfolks held up the German advance for an entire day, allowing the evacuations to begin.
3. French 12th Motorized Infantry Division
While the initial prospects for the British soldiers were grim, the “miracle at Dunkirk” had allowed nearly all remaining personnel of the British Expeditionary Force to escape back to England. The same would not be true of their French counterparts.
While some French units were able to cross the channel, many took up the positions of the retreating British rearguard. After engaging in a fighting retreat to the Dunkirk perimeter, the men of the 12th Division, now numbering less than 8,000, made their way to the Fort des Dunes on the eastern end of the line on June 1.
For four days, the French endured bombings from the Luftwaffe and attacks against their defenses. Their commanding officer, Gen. Gaston Janssen, was killed on June 2.
They made their way to the evacuation beaches on June 4, the final day of the withdrawal; however, they were too late and had missed their opportunity.
The men of the 12th Motorized Infantry Division were taken prisoner on the beaches they had defended so that 338,000 of their comrades might live to fight another day.
Everyone who deploys during a holiday makes a special effort to feel as if they aren’t really missing it. No matter how short the war is, no one wants to miss one of those crucial days. Even if the entire buildup and fighting lasted just a few months, you still want that piece of home. The Louisiana National Guard was no different in the Gulf War. No way were they going to miss Mardi Gras.
So the celebration may not have been as raucous as it is on Bourbon Street. Nor was it a family affair as it is in other wards and and cities in Louisiana. Still, it was important to the men and women who deployed to Saudi Arabia during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Mardi Gras isn’t something to be casually missed, so the unit threw their own version: Saudi Gras.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, sparking off a huge U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia call Operation Desert Shield as a bulwark against further Iraqi aggression. It was part of a larger plan to go on the offensive and expel Iraq from Kuwait in an operation known as Desert Storm. The forces required to execute Desert Storm and secure Saudi Arabia took a while to arrive. From August 1990 to January 1991, American and Coalition troops began arriving in the Saudi Kingdom.
One of those units called to action was the Louisiana National Guard, who arrived in late January and early February. Their only problem was that Mardi Gras began on Feb. 12 that year.
(Louisiana National Guard)
Mardi Gras is a Christian tradition, a celebration that begins on the Feast of the Epiphany and runs through Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. While Mardi Gras may not be a big deal in the rest of the United States, for the French-descended people of Louisiana, it is. For them, it’s more than beads on Bourbon Street – it’s a time of celebration, good food, parades, and family. Some 8,000 miles away from the French Quarter, the members of Lousiana’s National Guard deployed to Saudi Arabia decided they wouldn’t let the holiday pass them by.
Saudi Arabia saw its first-ever Mardi Gras celebration, dubbed “Saudi Gras” by those who were a part of it.
(Louisiana National Guard)
The beer was non-alcoholic (by necessity and general order), the parade queen was a Lt. Col. who volunteered to dress in drag, and the Saudi Gras King, a member of the 926th Tactical Fighter Group and native of New Orleans, was given the title “King Scud.” Elsewhere, Louisianans formed ad-hoc krewes, those celebrating Mardi Gras with the pledge to form a group that hosts a party, builds parade floats, and attends social events all year long.
You can take the troops out of Louisiana, but you can’t take Louisiana out of the troops.
Fun fact: Inauguration wasn’t always on January 20. Once upon a time (ha!) it was scheduled for March in order to give everyone time to make the journey to the event, since winter can put a damper on horse/buggy travel. This isn’t the only thing that may make you pause. Throughout our nation’s history of inaugurating presidents, some pretty interesting things have occurred on that new president’s special day. Here are 10 of the most bizarre moments:
Short and sweet
We couldn’t start this countdown without putting our very first president and founding father at the top of the list. When President George Washington raised his hand at his second inauguration on March 4, 1793, he must have been tired. Expected, since he had just spent those years prior fighting and then leading our new nation. When he turned to address the attendees who came to see him sworn in, his speech was only 135 words in length. Another fun fact is that for his first presidency, he reportedly had to borrow money to be able to travel. His first inauguration is also the only time a president has had two swearing-ins.
2. Lucky talismans
According to history, President Theodore Roosevelt was a super fan of President Abraham Lincoln. So much so, that he wore a piece of jewelry to his inauguration that held a lock of his hair. We don’t know whether to applaud his dedication or say something many of us are probably thinking: ew. Reports indicate he may have paid upwards of $100 for hairs to be removed from the president’s head during his autopsy and mounted one in a ring. Now, there are other reports that he simply wore a piece of President Lincoln’s jewelry but we think the hair rumor is better.
President Ulysses S. Grant thought birds would be a nice touch for his inauguration. Sadly, the weather didn’t corporate and it was so cold upwards of 100 of the birds they’d planned to release quite literally froze. Oops.
4. It’s lonely at the top
When President John Adams took the Oath of Office, he did it alone. Well, there were people. But history and several biographies have revealed that none of his family members were able to attend. It would take a long time before spouses of any presidents attended the ceremony. In 1809, Dolly Madison was the first to do so. The spouses themselves didn’t take part in anything either, until Lady Bird Johnson held the Bible that her husband took his oath on in 1965.
5. Whiskey lullaby
Vice President Andrew Johnson was drunk at his swearing in on inauguration day. He slurred his way through the whole thing! To be fair, reports state that he was very ill with typhoid fever and had used the whiskey to numb the pain. Poor guy!
6. Roped in
When President Eisenhower was sworn in, he did a lot of things differently. Like reciting a different prayer after the swearing in instead of kissing the Bible. But what he did after that definitely broke tradition! After getting permission from the Secret Service, he had a trick roper lasso him. Like, literally snag him with rope while on horseback. Interesting times.
7. Putting in the miles
President Jimmy Carter often said he wanted to be the “people’s president”. One way he showed this with action is by walking ahead of his inauguration parade. Not since Thomas Jefferson did it in 1803 had it been done by a president. He would start a trend, with many presidents walking at least part of the way.
8. It’s a party
After the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, he led the celebration back to the White House. Completely terrible idea! The party goers basically trashed the place and rumor has it that the president had to escape everything through a window. Maybe setting up “washtubs” filled with whiskey was a bad idea.
9. Pants party
President John Quincy Adams was the first president to wear pants to his inauguration. Really. To be fair, the tradition prior to this was “knee breeches” or shorts that went to the knee. He broke this and went rouge.
And the final bizarre or weird fact/moment from inaugurations past… drum-roll, please! This may be the very worst of them all, especially for all of you animal lovers! Before Watergate, there was pigeon-gate. No, really! President Nixon didn’t want his inauguration marred by what he reportedly thought were annoying pigeons. He spent around $13,000 to treat the trees with a chemical that would deter the pigeons from perching on the branches. Unfortunately, the inaugural committee didn’t plan on the pigeons eating it. Instead of a few troublesome pigeons, his inauguration was marred by dead and dying ones.
In 1944, the Japanese were still advancing into British-dominated Burma-India theater. Their progress was slowed due to dense jungles, steep mountains, and the fact that they were trampling all over the backyards of the world’s best soldiers.
One of those was 19-year-old Ganju Lama. Lama was a Rifleman in the 1st Battalion, 7th Gurkha Rifles, an anti-tank unit. This training would soon come in handy. They were part of an effort to recapture the city of Imphal in eastern India, along the Burma border.
The Japanese rolled into the area with 37mm guns mounted on Type 97 Chi-Ha tanks.
In his first contact with the Japanese outside of Imphal, he used a projectile, infantry, anti-tank (or PIAT) rifle to disable one of the tanks. The Gurkhas then fell back, with Lama covering their retreat. Three weeks later, Ganju Lama met another company of Japanese tanks.
That fight would go a very different way.
Japanese artillery opened up on the Gurkhas in the morning of June 12th and rained death on them for more than an hour. As soon as the rain let up, enemy infantry supported by three tanks tore through the British lines near Lama’s position. The Gurkhas counter-attacked but were soon bogged down.
While barely any American helicopters served in World War II and few flew in Korea, Vietnam was a proving ground for many airframes — everything from the venerable Huey to Chinooks sporting huge guns.
One of the most dangerous helicopter assignments was a tiny scout helicopter known as the “Loach.” Officially designated the OH-6 Cayuse, these things were made of thin plexiglass and metal but were expected to fly low over the jungles and grass, looking for enemy forces hiding in the foliage.
They were usually joined by Cobra gunships — either in hunter-killer teams where the Loach hunted and the Cobra killed or in air mobile cavalry units where both airframes supported cavalry and infantrymen on the ground.
In the hunter-killer teams, the Loach would fly low over the jungle, drawing fire and then calling for the Cobra to kill the teams on the ground.
In air mobile teams, a pilot would fly low while an observer would scan the ground for signs of the enemy force. Some of them were able to tell how large a force was and how recently it had passed. They would then call in scouts on the ground or infantrymen to hunt for the enemy in the brush while attack helicopters protected everyone.
Queer John was famous not just for crashing, but for keeping the crew safe while it did so. An Army article written after John’s seventh crash credited it with surviving 61 hits from enemy fire and seven crashes without losing a single crew member.
While Loachs were vulnerable to enemy fire, they were famous for surviving crashes like John did. A saying among Army aviators was, “If you have to crash, do it in a Loach.”
Camp Hale, located in Colorado’s Eagle River valley near Leadville, was constructed in 1942 during World War II. It served as a training facility for the US Army known as the 10th Mountain Division.
At 9,200 feet above sea level, Soldiers at Camp Hale trained in Nordic and Alpine skiing, mountain climbing, and cold weather survival, in addition to the more standard military training. The cold weather warfare tactics used by the Finnish Army during the Winter War between Finland and the USSR between 1939 and 1940 informed the training. It was an intelligent move on the part of the US government, that’s for sure.
The Birth of the Ski Troopers
Soldiers who trained at Camp Hale, called Ski Troopers, helped lead the Allied Forces to victory in World War II. They remain the only US military division of its size to receive specialized arctic and mountain warfare training. At its peak, 15,000 Soldiers trained at Camp Hale, enough to fill three regiments. All were deployed upon completing their training.
After 1945, when the war was over, the US government decommissioned Camp Hale. Its only military use after World War II was in the 1960s when the CIA used the area to secretly train Tibetans. Then in 1965, it was officially dismantled and the deed to the land was transferred to the US Forest Service.
Mountain Soldiers Turned Ski Resort Entrepreneurs
Just a few years earlier in 1962, Camp Hale Veteran Pete Seibert came back to Colorado and founded Vail Resorts just a hop, skip, and a jump from his former mountain warfare training. And there’s lots more where that came from.
Overall, America has the 10th Mountain Division to thank for developing the modern-day ski industry. The Soldiers took the skills they learned at Camp Hale and used them for something a lot more fun than fighting a war: recreational skiing! Now, skiing has become a popular winter pastime for many Americans.
The Fight To Protect Camp Hale
In order to protect 40,000 acres of Colorado land, 30,000 of which include Camp Hale, legislators have been pushing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. The act passed in the House in 2019 but remains to pass through the Senate.
If it passes, it would turn the camp into the first National Historic Landscape in the nation. A National Historic Landscape is a hybrid classification combining preservation of the terrain and education about its history. This would be the perfect designation for Camp Hale’s combination of history and natural beauty.
Do you have that buddy who scratches messages into his M4 rounds? Or maybe you’re the sailor who Sharpies “This one’s for you” onto JDAMs destined for a flight over the Gulf. Regardless, it turns out that you’re part of a tradition that dates back to a few hundred years before Jesus.
Yeah, we’re all comedians.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Nolan)
Writing messages on bombs, missiles, and other munitions is a common and long-standing tradition. After the 9/11 Attacks, messages of solidarity for New York and vengeance against al Qaeda and the Taliban started popping up on bombs headed for Afghanistan. Hussein and the Ba’ath party were favorite targets for graffiti over Iraq in the early 2000s.
More recently, bombs headed for Iraq and Syria have had messages for ISIS and Baghdadi, and messages supporting Paris were popular after the attacks in 2015.
Obviously, there’s about zero chance in Hell that anyone on the receiving end will actually read the messages. After all, the bomb casings will get obliterated when they go off. But it’s fun for the troops and lets them get a little steam out. Most service members will never fire a weapon, drop a bomb, or throw a grenade in anger.
(Imperial War Museum)
So it can sometimes be hard for support troops to connect their actions to dismantling ISIS, defeating Saddam, or destroying al Qaeda. It helps the ordnance crews reinforce their part of the mission, and they can imagine their Sharpie-soaked pieces of shrapnel shredding enemy fighters.
But this tradition really dates back. In World War II, British troops designated bombs to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz. And these Americans were hoping their bombs would be great party favors for the Third Reich.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare was a pioneer of Navy aviation, establishing the Navy’s first night fighter squadron, earning a Medal of Honor and ace-in-a-day status, and probably saving American carrier USS Lexington before his tragic death during a night battle in November, 1943.
The senior Edward O’Hare was murdered by the Al Capone gang while driving home.
O’Hare was the son of a St. Louis, Missouri, businessman with ties to Al Capone’s gang. His father put in a good word to get the younger O’Hare into the U.S. Naval Academy, which led to his being trained as an aviator.
During his training, his father turned against Capone after the events of the Valentine’s Day Massacre and passed financial documents to the IRS. Capone was eventually convicted, but put a hit out on O’Hare’s father. Then-Ensign O’Hare took a break from training to attend his father’s funeral, but went on to earn his wings 18 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks. He earned a reputation as a skilled aviator before America entered World War II.
Edward O’Hare as a pilot during World War II as a lieutenant. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and helped create night aviation procedures for the Navy before his death during the war.
His first engagement came near the Pacific island of Rabaul while his wing was temporarily assigned to the USS Lexington. A patrolling submarine spotted waves of Japanese “Betty” bombers heading for the Lexington’s task force on February 20, 1942. Fighters took to the air, and O’Hare and his wingman were the last pair to get airborne.
While the first fighters to take off dealt with the first wave of bombers, a second wave closed in and the O’Hare pair were the only fighters in position to attack. They did a quick test fire of their weapons. O’Hare had four working guns, but his wingman couldn’t fire.
And so O’hare was left facing either eight or nine attacking bombers — accounts differ — with only his F4F Wildcat protecting the carrier. He had just a few minutes to interrupt the enemy attack.
The USS Lexington was America’s second carrier and a legend in World War II. But it likely would have been destroyed early in the war if it weren’t for Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. O’Hare.
O’Hare zipped into position and focused his first attack on two bombers trailing on the right side of the enemy formation, downing both with quick, accurate bursts from his four .50-cal. Browning machine guns against their engines and fuel tanks. By the time he had downed the second bomber, he had overtaken the formation so he wheeled back around and came up the left side.
This time, he hit the rearmost plane with shots to the starboard engine that sent it wheeling toward the sea. O’Hare attacked again, slaughtering a fourth plane and crew with shots through the left wing and cockpit.
It had been only moments, and approximately half of the enemy formation had hit the water or was on its way. But that still left about four bombers heading to Lady Lex. So, O’Hare went in for a third attack pass as the fight drew into range of the Lex’s guns.
He sent a burst into the trail plane and then sent more rounds at the lead plane of the formation, knocking one of its engines off.
The kills had come so fast and furious that officers on the Lexington would later report seeing three fireballs heading for the ocean at once.
Between O’Hare and shipboard gunners, only two of the Japanese “Bettys” were still alive to drop their bombs, and none of the bombs managed to damage the carrier at all. O’Hare would claim six kills from the engagement, but he would only get credited with five. Either way, that took him from zero kills to fighter ace in a single engagement. This made him the Navy’s second fighter ace and its first ace-in-a-day as the service’s air arm was young and relatively small in World War I.
F6F Hellcats were strong successors to the F4F Wildcat and they allowed naval pilots to become more lethal against Japanese forces.
But that couldn’t keep O’Hare engaged, and he returned to combat in 1943, this time flying the Wildcat’s stronger successor, the F6F Hellcat. In just a few months during the latter half of 1943, O’Hare earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, one for an attack on Japanese forces on Marcus Island where he and his flight destroyed all aircraft on the ground and approximately 80 percent of ground installations, and another for an attack against Wake Island installations where the flight downed three enemies in the air and destroyed planes and installations on the ground.
But the American forces were vulnerable deep in the Pacific, and O’Hare was tasked with finding a way to stop Japanese dusk attacks had allowed damage to the USS Independence. His proposal to create three-plane teams with two Hellcats and a radar-equipped Avenger was quickly adopted. The carriers would detect enemy planes first and vector the fighter in until the Avenger could detect the targets.
In this 1951 photo, the plane closest to the camera is an Avenger, the plane that O’Hare paired with F6F Hellcats in order to make them more effective at dusk and in the early night. The rest of the planes on the deck are F8F Bearcats, successors to the Hellcat.
Right as the Hellcats returned to the Avenger, though, a Japanese plane slipped in behind them and sent a burst through O’Hare’s plane. The tail gunner in the Avenger downed the attacker, but O’Hare and his plane slipped away into the dark and crashed into the water.
About two weeks after he found the sunken aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV 2), Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has located another legendary wreck. This time, according to a release, it’s the Atlanta-class anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52), best known as the vessel that the five Sullivan brothers served on.
USS Juneau had been one of two anti-aircraft cruisers (the other was USS Atlanta (CL 51), the lead ship of the class) sent to join the light cruiser USS Helena (CL 50), the heavy cruisers USS San Francisco (CA 38) and USS Portland (CA 33), and eight destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan. Callaghan’s orders were to stop a Japanese force that included the fast battleships Hiei and Kirishima. In a furious naval battle, Callaghan’s force succeeded — but at great cost.
The Juneau survived the initial battle but was badly damaged when hit by a Japanese Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo. As she was steaming home, some of her crew had transferred to assist casualties on USS San Francisco — that’s when the Japanese submarine I-26 fired a spread of three torpedoes. One hit, right where Juneau had taken the previous torpedo.
The anti-aircraft cruiser exploded, broke in two, and sank in 20 seconds. Captain Gilbert C. Hoover radioed a plane with the location, but ordered the ships not to stop. In doing so, he left behind over 100 survivors. Only three of those would live. Among the lost sailors were the five Sullivan brothers. Hoover was promptly relieved by Vice Admiral William F. Halsey for leaving the survivors behind.
The USS Juneau rests a little over two and a half miles below the sea’s surface. A new USS Juneau (CL-119), a modified Atlanta, served after World War II. A third USS Juneau (LPD 10) was an Austin-class amphibious transport dock that served until 2008 and is still being held in reserve.
Despite the United States landing an impressive victory against Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, the British kept coming back for more. The Battle of 1812 would span years and multiple attacks but on December 1, 1814 – General Andrew Jackson was ready for them.
A British fleet had sailed into the Gulf of Mexico during the fall of 1814 in hopes of taking the territory of Louisiana, which was newly acquired by the United States. Jackson foiled their plans. As the commander of the 7th Military District, he was well prepared to prevent their attack with a surprise of his own. Knowing their intent to attack, he left Alabama and arrived in New Orleans to rally the city and establish his base on that fateful December day.
Not long after Andrew Jackson arrived, the British were sighted. After declaring martial law, he commissioned every man and weapon for use against the potential invaders. People rallied to support the cause, including military members, civilians, freed slaves, Choctaw people and a pirate by the name of Jean Lafitte. Supporters of the cause arrived from all over; many came in to join the fight from neighboring states.
After hearing of the landing of the British on December 23, 1914, Jackson led a nighttime surprise attack on the unsuspecting British troops. Although this fight was inconclusive, it left an obvious sting. Jackson retreated, making more strategic plans to foil further attempts to invade New Orleans. The United States militia of over 4,000 men were well poised to defend Louisiana and they dug in to build the barrier defense system known as ‘Line Jackson’. This wall of mud, logs, cotton and earth would be a key part in the success of the official Battle of New Orleans.
The pre-planned attack by the British on the western bank of Louisiana finally came in January, but the military and militia were well prepared to defend it. The Battle of New Orleans would last approximately two hours with the United States wounding over 2,000 British soldiers but only suffering 65 casualties themselves. It was this battle that would seal Jackson’s ability to be elected into the presidency later on in 1828.
What those fighting didn’t know was that a peace treaty had been signed weeks before in Belgium, officially ending the War of 1812. Although the Battle of New Orleans could have been avoided if word had reached those in charge, the victory over the British sent an undeniable message: the United States wouldn’t be taken, ever. Following the victory, it led to the ‘Era of Good Feelings’ or nationalism, in which Americans were united in their pride for their country.
Although the relationship between the two countries is now friendly, the road to getting there was paved with struggle and continued wars for power. In the end, despite overwhelming odds – Andrew Jackson and the United States prevailed and held steady. A young country with endless potential and possibilities, America has continually proven herself capable of demonstrating strength, conviction and the commitment to the endless pursuit of liberty for all.
Through the cockpit windscreen, Capt. Robert Morgan saw flashes of light from the wings and engine cowling of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at his 12 o’clock and closing at an incredible rate. Each wink of light from the fighter’s wing root meant another 20mm cannon shell was heading directly at his B-17F Flying Fortress at over 2,300 feet per second.
Having no room to dive in the crowded formation of B-17 bombers of the 91st Bomb Group, he pitched up. The Luftwaffe fighter’s shells impacted the tail of the aircraft instead of coming straight through the windscreen.
Over the intercom Morgan heard his tail gunner, Sgt. John Quinlan, yelling that the aircraft’s tail was shot to pieces and what was left was in flames.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
It was January 23, 1943. Morgan and his nine crewmen aboard the “Memphis Belle” had just fought their way through a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters, dropped their bombs on a Nazi submarine base in the coastal city of Lorient in occupied France and were fighting to survive the return trip to the Eighth Air Force base in Bassingbourn, England. Morgan began calculating if the crew should bail out and become prisoners of war before the tail tore completely off the bomber trapping the crew in a death spiral culminating in a fiery crash.
A moment later, Quinlan reported that the fire in the tail had gone out. The “Memphis Belle” and its crew would survive the mission; the crew’s eighth and the bomber’s ninth.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
They would have to survive 17 more missions to complete the required 25 to rotate home. All would be flown during a period of World War II when the Luftwaffe was at the height of its destructive powers.
Against all odds, the “Memphis Belle” crew flew those missions, their last to once again bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient on May 17, 1943, before returning safely to England for the final time. Bottles of Champagne were uncorked and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Hanson collapsed onto the flightline and kissed the ground.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
For the “Belle” itself, it was only mission 24 and the plane had to fly once more with an alternate crew on May 19.
The B-17 and its crew would be the first to return alive and intact to the U.S. They were welcomed as heroes and immediately embarked on a 2 ½-month, nationwide morale tour to sell war bonds. The tour was also to encourage bomber crews in training that they too could make it home. It made celebrities of both the “Belle” and its crew.
Ironically, the two and a half months of press conferences, parties and glad-handing officers and politicians was about the same amount of time during the “Belle’s” combat tour that 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews were lost to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.
“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” Morgan said in an interview after the war. During the totality of the air war over Europe more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, would be killed.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Seventy-five years to the day after that 25th mission, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force will honor the bravery of those bomber crews, some of the first Americans to take the fight to the Nazis in WWII, when they unveil for public display the largely restored B-17F, Serial No. 41-24485, “Memphis Belle” as part of a three-day celebration, May 17-19, 2018.
According to the museum curator in charge of the “Memphis Belle” exhibit, Jeff Duford, the weekend will include more than 160 WWII re-enactors showcasing their memorabilia, WWII-era music and vehicles, static displays of other B-17s, flyovers of WWII-era aircraft and presentations of rare archival film footage. The “Memphis Belle” will be the centerpiece of an exhibit documenting the strategic bombing campaign over Europe.
“The ‘Memphis Belle’ is an icon that represents all the heavy bomber crewmen who served and sacrificed in Europe in World War II,” Duford said, “In many ways the ‘Memphis Belle’ is the icon for the United States Air Force.
“You look at the U.S. Marines, they have this wonderful icon of the flag being raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and everyone recognizes that. It symbolizes service and sacrifice and tenacity and teamwork. Well, the Air Force has that symbol too, and it’s this airplane. It demonstrates teamwork. The crews had to work together. The planes in formation had to work together. The formations had to work together with the fighter escorts.”
The service and sacrifice of the young men still leaves Duford awestruck even after working on the “Belle” project for a decade.
(U.S. Army photo)
“How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that they are probably not going to come home? And they don’t do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times – they have to do it 25 times,” said Duford. “Once they got inside the airplane, they had no place to run. There were no foxholes to be dug. The skin on those airplanes is so thin that a bullet or flak fragment would go through it like a tin can because that’s essentially what it was.
“The odds were that every 18 missions, a heavy bomber was going to be shot down. So when you think the crew had to finish 25 missions to go home, statistically it was nearly impossible. It was one-in-four odds that a heavy bomber recruit would finish their 25 missions. Those other three crew members would’ve been shot down and captured, killed or wounded so badly they couldn’t finish their tour.”
The fact the “Memphis Belle” crew survived their tour was of great value to the U.S. Army Air Forces in maintaining support for the daylight strategic bombing campaign over Europe, which was still, in fact, an experiment.
“Back then, there was no book on high altitude strategic bombing. The generals didn’t know any more than we did. They had to figure bombing strategy as we went along,” said Morgan in a book he would write after the war, “The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle”.
The B-17 was named the “Flying Fortress”, because it was bristling with .50 caliber machine guns covering every angle of attack by German fighters, save one. The theory was that all that defensive firepower would be amplified by heavy bombers flying in tight formations, called “boxes”, enabling them to protect each other from attacking fighters.
While the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters sometimes paid a price for attacking the formations, they soon developed tactics that exploited a design weakness in B-17Fs, like the “Memphis Belle”.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
While twin .50 caliber machine guns in top and belly turrets and the tail and single .50 cal. gunners protected the bomber, the 12 o’clock position was covered by a lone .30 caliber machine gun – no match for the German fighters. Because the bomber formations had to fly straight and level to initiate their bombing run, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots began attacking the formations head on. The ensuing carnage was ghastly.
“The secret to the B-17 was the capability of flying in tight formations, so tight that the wings were often almost touching,” wrote Morgan. “We were able to put out an amazing amount of firepower… but, I also positively feel that was a bit of divine intervention for our crew.”
While the addition of Allied fighter escorts helped fend off some German attackers, the fact that the B-17s had to fly at 25,000 feet or lower to maintain any semblance of accuracy on target put them in the range of the deadly German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. No amount of machine guns or friendly fighters could counter the dense flak approaching targets while flying straight and level.
Bomber crews had to just grit their teeth and pray.
“They felt like they were a great crew. They were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing,” said Duford. “However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too.”
Luck, both good and bad, was also a factor in the “Belle” crew, despite not being the first crew to complete 25 missions, being the one to return to the U.S. for a bond and morale tour.
The “Belle’s” selection for the morale tour was the result of a film project about the strategic bombing campaign that was the brainchild of USAAF Gen. Hap Arnold and a Hollywood director, William Wyler, who had volunteered to serve his country in the best way he knew how.
It was hoped that a film documenting a bomber crew as they successfully completed a combat tour would calm new recruits, who were hearing stories of the carnage overseas, and assuage the doubts of the public, press and politicians that strategic bombing was a failure.
Wyler, an immigrant who was born in the Alsace region of modern-day France when it was part of the German Empire prior to World War I and who would go on to win three Best Director Academy Awards, including one for “Ben-Hur”, was commissioned as a major and headed to England with a film crew to document the fight in skies over Europe.
Wyler and his cameraman flew with B-17 combat crews and began filming missions of a B-17F of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group named “Invasion II”. His staff also began interviewing and making publicity photographs of the crewmembers, as they drew closer to completing 25 missions.
However, on April 17, 1943, the reality of war spoiled the Hollywood ending during their 23rd mission to Bremen, Germany. Invasion II crashed after being hit by flak over Borhmen, Germany, setting the cockpit and wing on fire. The crew managed to bail out, but all became prisoners of war.
Wyler regrouped and found a plane and crew with the 324th Bomb Squadron that was also close to completing their combat tour. The “Memphis Belle”, named for Morgan’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, and its crew took center stage.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)
While the crew of “Hell’s Angels” completed their tour on May 13, 1943, four days before the “Belle”, there was no film of that plane and crew. Consequently, it was the “Belle” and its crew that would fly mission 26 back to the U.S. and receive a hero’s welcome.
Wyler’s film, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”, would be released and distributed by Paramount Pictures the following year.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo)
It was a film that came with a high price tag. One of Wyler’s cinematographers, 1st Lt. Harold J. Tannenbaum, a veteran of World War I, was killed in action during the filming when the bomber he was in was shot down over France on April 16, 1943.
Until the end of the war, the “Belle” was used as a training aircraft, but instead of being torn apart for scrap like most of the other 12,700 B-17s built during the war, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, put the aircraft on display for nearly 50 years.
The historic aircraft came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005, when work began on a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort including corrosion treatment and the full outfitting of missing equipment.
Casey Simmons arrived shortly after the “Memphis Belle” as a restoration specialist for the museum.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
From the beginning, it was apparent that priority one in the restoration was getting it right. His first assignment was to fabricate a glycol heater that was missing from inside the left wing. No visitor to the museum would ever see it.
“I know it’s there and that’s cool because it’s going to get all the parts that it needs to be a complete aircraft,” said Simmons. “When you don’t have the part you try and find a part from another airplane or you go to the blueprints and make the part completely from scratch.”
While the museum has other B-17s in its collection, the “Memphis Belle” requires a whole other level of patience and dedication.
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)
“Other restoration projects are typically a general model of a certain aircraft. So it represents a lot of them. This one is a specific aircraft, so you have to get it right; exactly to the rivet,” said Simmons.
The museum specialist did not try to restore the “Belle” to how it rolled off the Boeing line, but utilized films, photos and records from its time in combat to bring the B-17F back to fighting trim, scars and all.
“There are certain damage spots on the “Memphis Belle” that were fixed over time, so we have to make sure that those show up on the aircraft the way they were,” said Simmons. “If they put five rivets in an area as opposed to the standard four that are supposed to be there, we have to get that correct… When you go through video footage, old film footage, or photographs, and you do find a little glimpse of what you’re looking for, that’s a big moment. We have to get it right for those bomber crews.”
The bravery of those bomber crews continued after all the whoopla back home died down. Even Morgan was eager to get back in the fight.
While on a morale tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, Morgan caught a glimpse of the future of strategic bombing, the still secret B-29 Superfortress. He volunteered immediately to train on the new bomber and earned command of his own squadron of B-29s that deployed to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.
On November 24, 1944, his 869th Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group was the first, other than Doolittle’s Raiders in 1942, to bomb Tokyo. He would go on to complete another 24 combat missions in the B-29 before the end of WWII. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1965 as a colonel.
While the restoration and display of the “Memphis Belle” will ensure the story of the dedication, bravery and airmanship of its 10 crewmembers that returned home safely in 1943 honors all the Airmen that fought in WWII, Duford is particularly enthusiastic that the exhibit will allow Museum of U.S. Air Force visitors to learn the story of the little known 11th crewmember of the “Memphis Belle”.
As much as any Airman, he embodied the spirit and sense of duty shared by all the heavy bomber crews.
“It’s the story of one of the waist gunners, Emerson Scott Miller,” said Duford. “You don’t see him in any of the war bond photos and you don’t see his name listed as one of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew members. He came overseas as a technician repairing the autopilot systems on B-17s. He was safe. He didn’t have to fly the missions but he decided he wanted to do more and volunteered to fly in combat. He joined the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew after they had flown about nine or 10 of their missions. So he had flown 16 of his missions when the rest of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew completed their 25th.
“Capt. Robert Morgan really wanted Scott Miller to come back on the war bond tour, but Miller hadn’t finished his 25th mission, so he had to stay. While the ‘Belle’ crew was celebrated and famous and there were parties for them, Scott Miller was still flying in combat.”
Fittingly, Miller finished his 25th mission aboard another B-17 on July 4, 1943, but for him, there were no parades, no press conferences, no meeting movie stars and no special duties.
“We got in touch with Scott Miller’s family,” said Duford. “They donated a trunk full of artifacts, and so Scott Miller has a place in the exhibit and his story will be told… He could have just simply done his duty repairing those autopilot systems and gone home safe. But he put his life on the line and then was forgotten. Now he’s going to be remembered now and for generations to come.”
This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.